There are many complications of childhood obesity. In general, obesity can decrease life expectancy by approximately 20%, which is about 15 years.
Obesity increases children’s risk of many conditions outlined below including (see Figure 1):
Cardiovascular disease or Heart Disease—Children with obesity are at an increased risk over their lifetime of heart attacks and strokes because obesity leads to increased cholesterol in the bloodstream. This cholesterol can deposit in the arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes when they are older.
Diabetes—Children with obesity are at high risk of developing problems with Type II Diabetes in childhood and later in life. Children more commonly develop insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. Diabetes carries its own risks of complications including blindness from diabetic eye disease known as retinopathy, blood vessel disease leading to poor wound healing and nerve disease that leads to decreased sensation or feeling in the arms or legs.
Knee and back pain—Increased weight can cause increased stress on joints which leads to pain. This increased weight can also cause degeneration of joints leading to arthritis at earlier ages than people who are not obese or overweight.
Liver problems and gallstones—Extra body fat can deposit in the liver and cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). If left untreated, NAFLD can eventually progress to liver cirrhosis and liver failure. Obesity can also increase the risk of having gallstones, that can cause abdominal pain and inflammation of the pancreas. The gallbladder may need to be removed by surgery if this were to occur.
Gastroesophageal reflux and/or Heartburn—Increased fat in children’s abdomen can increase the pressure in their abdomen and make it more likely that stomach acid, food and liquid can go back up into the esophagus. This causes irritation of the esophagus, bad breath, and even vomiting.
High blood pressure—Obesity increases the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes later in life. High blood pressure can also increase the risk of kidney disease.
Metabolic syndrome—Obesity increases the risk of a group of symptoms together that we call the metabolic syndrome. These symptoms include high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, and increased abdominal measurements. Having this group of symptoms together increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Sleep apnea—Increased weight around the neck can cause decreased breathing during sleep. This can lead to decreased energy levels during the day, fatigue and problems with concentration during the day. For the same reasons, obesity also contributes to snoring, which can also disrupt sleep too and cause decreased energy during the day.
Cancer in adulthood—Obesity increases the risk of many different types of cancer in adulthood. These include cancers of the esophagus (food tube), colon, pancreas, and liver.
Depression and low self-esteem—Children can be subject to bullying, teasing,and mistreatment by other children because of their weight. Often, this can lead to low self-esteem, school avoidance, and depression. Additionally, children may eat to feel better about these thoughts, further worsening their obesity.
|Figure 1. Complications of childhood obesity include many problems that can affect children both in childhood and later in life. These include non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), depression, headaches, sleep apnea, asthma, cardiovascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney disease (nephropathy), metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and joint problems.